Reflecting on the week that was: November 9, 2019

I have had some interesting conversations this past week, both personal and professional and some that were in between. I was told that I was a pioneer, and inspirational. Being called a pioneer was new, so I particularly liked that.

After years of being asked, “what I do” I finally figured it out (I have another blog about that), which was very satisfying and revealing. Now that I know what I do, I can much more easily tell people, and explain why they need me to help them be successful with their digital transformation project (or other big, unwieldy initiatives).

However, something someone said, in one the conversations is still bouncing around inside of my head: they said, that people want to know how to break-through the shell of what they’ve learned/been taught. Which is a noble thought; an admirable goal.

But what strikes me is that they want a shortcut. They want a course, or a checklist, that when you do these things you will have become aware, you will have dropped your mask, you will have unlearned the negative patterns you have learned. And certainly, there are retreats you can go on, books you can read, therapy you can do, coaching or mentoring you can get, and they all help move along the path, but there are no shortcuts. It takes as long as it takes, it happens when it happens and even when it happens, it continues to evolve; it never stops, you never arrive. Get used to it.
We have been taught that if you take the course, get the certification, finish your “to do” list, that all will be right with the world, that we will be successful when that happens. But it’s a big, fat lie.

You define success, the same way you define happiness. Looking for external approval and validation is only going to make you miserable.

What is success for me? Having work that I like doing, working with people who trust and respect me, spending time with friends, painting, going to museums and art galleries, seeing art, going to jazz or classical music concerts, going for a walk in nature, people watching, allowing my mind to wander, spending time along (sometimes a lot of it), reading, watching movies, eating good food (especially with friends), connecting with people, sharing my story/experience, learning, experimenting. 

It has taken me a lot of time and effort to figure these things out, it’s not been easy, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. There are no shortcuts.

What do I Do: the box I fit into

What do I do?

I get asked this question all the time; for years I have been asked this question. At the beginning of my career I could say I was an accounting student, or an accountant, and people understood this. However, the more education and experience I got, the more difficult it became to say precisely what I did. 

When I became self-employed, I used to say that I did knowledge management consulting, and I did, but people (mostly) didn’t understand what that meant, so I tried to explain. I could give examples of projects that I had done and the impact that it had had, and they sort of understood, but not really. They smiled and nodded and we moved onto another subject.

I have been self-employed for 16 years, my consulting practice has changed and evolved, the “how” of what I do has changed. I now incorporate artistic methods/thinking into what I do (the truth is, they was there all along, I just didn’t have a name for it, much like the agile, and design thinking practices I incorporated in to my methodology, without having a name for them either). But, honestly, no one cares about the “how”, they care about the results. 

What are my results? 

I stop you from failing with your big, unwieldy projects and programs. Your big, cross-functional, cross-organisational initiatives, that don’t neatly fit into a box. Those initiatives that have lots of stakeholders, lots of moving parts, lots of conflicting objectives. They have technology, they have processes, they have people.

Examples: One organisation recognised an ROI of 165%, while another was prevented from throwing out a million dollar (Cdn) IT investment and starting over.

In the current environment, these projects are called digital transformation, and up to 95% of them fail. When I first started, they were mostly called knowledge management, and somewhere around 50% of them failed. Certainly, one of the first KM projects I did had failed twice previously under different project managers, and I came along and did it using an iterative, collaborative approach (what might be called agile and design thinking now). Not only did I have a successful pilot with 100 people, but eventually had almost 7000 people using the platform, which increased to 10,000 on the momentum of what I had started even after I left the organisation. 

Since going out on my own, I have helped other organisations do this—well, at least the ones that trusted me. There were some that were uncomfortable with my cross-functional, collaborative, iterative approach, and so shelved my work, which is their prerogative. 

My success is built on experience, trial and error, persistence, collaboration, communication, curiosity, critical thinking, leadership, and a willingness to admit that I don’t know the answer but I’ll find out. There is no course that teaches these things, only experience. 

Courses and certifications teach theory, they teach best practices. But as anyone who knows about best practices will tell you, best practices are dependant on the organisation, the situation, the culture, the people, the technology, and the processes. Best practices from one situation/organisation will not necessarily give the same results somewhere else. 

Experience takes best practices and asks the question, how do we take that and make it work here, in this environment, with this technology, with these people?

What do I do?

I ask the questions, and I successfully plan and execute big, unwieldy projects.

How not to fail at digital transformation

It is said that digital transformation projects fail up to 95% of the time! [1], I’ve seen slightly lower numbers, but still exceptionally high.

I’m not going to go into the why, the article I linked to above does that, and I will let you read that, what I’m going to tell you is how I implement digital transformation projects successfully, so that you can do it too.

One of the keys is to work across the silos of your organisation, this makes a lot of people very nervous, but it’s the only way to do it and be successful. This means talking to people, involving them, keeping them informed.

Another key is to involve the users. This often gets called design thinking, these days, but design thinking wasn’t something I’d heard of when I first did it 20 years ago, it just seemed to be the right thing to do. I certainly don’t know what would make people’s jobs easier, and reduce their workload, or at least not increase it, so I ask them. I talk to them about their processes, what they call things, how they are organised. The things that worked for them, what didn’t work for them.

Once I get their input I create wireframes or prototypes and validate them with the people I’ve talked to, making modifications where I’ve misunderstood something or not asked enough questions. We often do this 2-3 times until we get it right. This gets call agile, trying and failing, or iteration; again it just seemed to be the right thing to do when I first did it. I was realistic enough to know that I wasn’t an expert in whatever my users were, so if I was going to help them, I was going to need their help–it was a team effort, we were in this together.

Something else that is critical is keeping everyone informed: users, management, other stakeholders. We have regular emails, updates, and meetings as well as documents being posted online for people to access. It takes a lot of communication: A LOT!

I ask questions and ensure alignment. When something doesn’t make sense, I go back to the users, the use cases they had described, the organisation’s vision or strategy, whatever helps me ensure we are moving in the right direction, in the best interests of the people I was working with and the organisation as a whole. If I have conflicting information, we talk about it and make a decision, sometimes, I make the decision, sometimes the team does, whatever keeps us moving towards the goal. The times that I make the decision, I explain my rationale and reasoning, so that people don’t feel excluded, like I have “done it to them”. We are in this together, we only succeed together.

I treat people like equals, with the trust and respect they deserve. They come to trust me, and work with me to achieve our objectives. It is hard. Lots of people don’t like it. Lots of people want a command and control approach, but that’s not going to be successful. We’re in the age of the knowledge worker, and have been for a long time. It demands a different approach than the industrial age.

You have to be passionate, tenacious, and willing to admit you don’t have all the answers but you’ll find out. Success takes leadership, not a place on the hierarchy.

I am Stephanie Barnes and I am … magic


(I am like a Tardis—I look ordinary, but contain powers beyond your imagination)

I don’t fit in a box
I work in the white space between the boxes

I don’t conform
I am a leader and a follower
I am analytical and creative
I am process-driven and flexible
I do digital transformation and culture change
I am a program and project manager and a performer of tasks
I get things done and I leave them until it is time to do them
I balance people, process, and technology
I balance business and technology
I am a bridge builder and an island
I like data and I think it’s pointless
I like theories and practicality
I create strategies, I implement them, and I go with the flow
I like the simplicity of black and white, while loving the energy, chaos, and emotions of layers of colours
I am patient and impatient
I rush ahead and I wait and see
I accept the things people tell me as true, and I ask lots of questions
I love silence, jazz concerts, and the symphony
I love the stillness of nature and the buzz of city life
I like order while finding it boring
I like chaos while finding it overwhelming and requiring order
I am a twin and an individual

I am organised chaos

Why do I do these things?

Because I am an expert and a novice
Because I am experienced and skilled, collaborative and curious
Because I am searching and challenging boundaries
Because I wonder what happens if…

An update and some thoughts on creativity and honesty

Wow, so much is happening, and I seem to have fallen behind in my plans to blog and share this experience more regularly as well as share interesting info about creativity and innovation. So, let me catch you up a bit.

In the last few weeks I have been planning and delivering a several workshop on creativity and innovation, and how to incorporate these ideas into people’s everyday lives, whether that is on a personal or professional level. It has been great fun, and I’ve received some wonderful, insightful feedback on how to make the workshops even better, which I am extremely grateful for!

I got a bit of disappointing news that the innovation trip to Silicon Valley that I was going to facilitate some sessions on was cancelled, and in fact the business unit that was in charge of the trip has been absorbed back into the main company, and none of the trips that were being planned are going to go ahead.

On Friday, September 7th, I attended my first Creative Mornings: Berlin meeting, the theme was <chaos>, which definitely spoke to me, both from the painting that I do, as well as my consulting work in knowledge management, where I had given myself the title, “Chief Chaos Organiser”. I enjoyed the session very much and am looking forward to future meetings. During the session the organiser stated that they were looking for a speaker for the October meeting, where the theme is <honesty> and I thought, I could do that, so was one of 4 people who spoke to him afterwards about speaking next month. The abstracts/outlines are being reviewed, so I don’t know right now, if mine will be selected or not.

While I was working on my abstract, I realised just how important this theme is to me. I went from thinking, “omg, what I am going to talk about?” to, “omg, I have so many things I could talk about, how am I going to narrow it down?”, which was a nice problem to have. The theme touches, not just my consulting work, but my painting.

The thread that runs through both areas of my life is the idea of being honest about who I am and what I want for my life. I went back to the idea of how creativity is educated out of us in order to conform and fit in and be like everyone else, and for myself, and many others, I have spent a great deal of time and effort to figure out what that is: what do I like, what do I want for my life, what career do I want, where do I want to live????

So much of what I learned in 20 years of education was about doing what was expected of me, trying to fit in, be like everyone else, make the adults in my life happy, somewhere along the line, I stopped asking the question, “what do I want”, and started asking the question, “what am I supposed to do?”, which is the totally wrong question to ask, although I only realised that years later.

I had learned so well, to not be honest about who/what I was and wanted, that I hadn’t even realised it, until NONE of it had worked out the way it was “supposed to” and I was left with nothing of what I was “supposed to have by now”.

Since that time, I have tried out lots of things, some I liked, some I didn’t. I hated rock climbing. But I love being self-employed and having the flexibility and freedom to do the things I have done: worked with international clients, spoken at conferences around the world, published various books and articles. I love the painting that I do, and sharing it with people in my exhibitions, and on my website. I love living in Berlin, and am so glad I made this move, it has opened up a whole new facet of my life, and I’m doing things I could never have done if I had stayed were I was. That’s not to say everything has been easy, the move to Berlin is quite possibly the most difficult thing I have ever done. Making new friends, getting connected and integrated into life here, and learning German (which is still a work-in-progress, but I refuse to give up), has been HARD, but I have no regrets, and am grateful and consider myself lucky to have this experience.

Starting Entelechy, is both the realisation of my own potential, and gives me the opportunity to help other’s realise their potential whether it’s on an organisational or personal level.

Entelechy is honestly who I am, and why I’m here.

Edit: as of September 10 at 10am CET, I just got word that my proposal to speak at the Creative Mornings: Berlin event in October has been accepted! Woo hoo! Here’s the link: October talk

It’s been 4 weeks…

It’s been 4 weeks since my transformative conversation with Paulina Larocca, and what a month it has been!

I am ever so grateful that we connected, I have Kristen Peterson to thank for that, and I am grateful that the other coach I had asked to work with me refused, for reasons which are his own.

In the last month I have started a new webpage (you’re on it) as well as a new Facebook page. I have written several blog posts about the shift and what I’m doing now. I have spoken to a great group of women at a Future Females event here in Berlin, and have lots of people/organisations talking to me about doing workshops and coaching with them, I am so excited! I am also working on a series of videos, which will be created over the next few months to share my thoughts and experiences with creativity and innovation, so keep an eye out for those.

If you have questions about any of this feel free to get in touch, even (or especially if) you are not in Berlin, this work is definitely not tied to location!

Looking forward to sharing this journey with you!

Leaving 19 years of KM behind?

Since deciding a few weeks ago to fully evolve into creativity and innovation, I have had a few people ask me about leaving 19 years of knowledge management behind (4 in a full-time position, and 15 as an independent consultant), after-all I’ve written books, chapters, articles, spoken at conferences around the world, and worked with clients on 4 continents. They are surprised, to say the least.

However, I don’t see it as leaving KM behind, I see it as an evolution. The metaphor I’ve used is that instead of dragging my KM box with me, l am standing on that box. It’s here supporting me instead of me carrying it around. It’s a good feeling to stand on that 19 years of experience and knowledge and to be using it to support my next steps.

My path to creativity

In my introduction, last week, when I spoke at the Future Females: Berlin creativity event.  I made a joke about being an accountant and a IT professional and that I was going to talk to them about creativity. I said, “I know what you’re thinking, what is and accountant and IT person going to tell us about creativity?” and really, how does someone who studied accounting and IT come to be doing creativity?!? I mean, really???!!!

You’re going to have to trust me that it is all connected, I don’t want to bore you to death with all the details, but the short answer is, that after having the creativity, figuratively, if not literally, beaten out of me of during years of education, I came to realise how important it is.

I was exhausted and burnt out and a bit bored because I had finished my MBA and didn’t have any hobbies, after-all who has time for hobbies when there is school work to be done. So, I started trying things out: drawing (oooh, this is math, I can do math), photography (oooh, nice to be outside, what happens when I do this with the shutter speed?), rock climbing (hated it, never again), going to the symphony (loved it), painting (ooooooh this is amazing, this one REALLY stuck). As I tried out all these things some of them stuck, and some of them didn’t, but I slowly started to figure out who I was, other than a student. Who I was, when I wasn’t trying to do a “should” or a “supposed to” and it was fantastic. Having these creative outlets helped me be more balanced, to be better at my career, because I thought more critically, and I was more resilient.

I decided a week ago to leave the knowledge management consulting that I had been doing for 15 years behind, and to step fully into the creativity and innovation work that I had been developing over the last 6 years and it feels like, this is it, this is what I am here for, this is what this long, circuitous journey has been about: getting me ready to use all the skills and knowledge I have accumulated along the way to help organisations and people to be more balanced, to use both sides of their brains, to look at things differently if they want different outcomes; to apply artistic practices and principles to all kinds of problems to arrive at better, more balanced, more useful solutions.

I am so excited to be here!

Just watch me!

This is the evolution of me. I’m taking all of my experience and history and creating a new layer.

My undergrad in accounting, my time working in finance and accounting, my MBA in information technology, my time working in technology and then as an independent knowledge management consultant, and my development as an artist, have all led to this moment, this realisation of potential: entelechy.